Hindu Responses to Islamic Invasions: A Historical Journey

The first part of a series narrating Dr. Ramesh Chandra Majumdar's factual analysis of the Hindu response to Islamic invasions of India over the centuries and the lessons they hold for us today.
Hindu Responses to Islamic Invasions: A Historical Journey

It is a trite observation that a man’s real worth is judged by his conduct and behaviour in the face of a great calamity. In most cases it is not till he is confronted with an extraordinary situation, that we can form a true estimate of his character and personality. The same thing is also true to a large extent of nations or other large groups or associations of human beings. To judge aright the true characteristics of a nation and to make a proper estimate of its greatness, we must study its reactions to a great national crisis.

The paucity of reliable data affords us very little opportunity of undertaking such a study of the Hindus in ancient times. Nevertheless, there are events and circumstances which tempt us to indulge in speculations of this nature. One of these is the Muslim Invasion of India. It was a national crisis of the first magnitude; the danger was neither sudden nor unexpected; and for five centuries the Hindus lived in imminent peril, or at least under the spectre, of a Muslim conquest which would have the inevitable consequence of destroying the religious and social institutions which they held so dear.

The fate of Persia or old Iran, which lost not only its freedom but almost the whole of its ancient glorious culture was a grave warning to India. It must have been brought home by the bands of straggling fugitives from that hapless country who sought for refuge in India in a final and desperate effort to keep alive the torch of their ancient culture and civilisation which was totally submerged beneath the pools of blood of their heroic but less fortunate countrymen. It was idle to expect that the energetic followers of the new militant faith, who had already overrun nearly the whole of Western Asia, would set any limit to their greed of conquest or zeal for spreading Islam. If any such fond hope were entertained in any quarter, the disillusionment was not long in coming.

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Hindu Responses to Islamic Invasions: A Historical Journey

Even long before 650 A.D. the Arabs sent both naval and military expeditions against the border land of India and her western coast. By 712 A.D. they had conquered Sindh and Islam obtained a footing in the soil of India.

From this date, there could not be any reasonable doubt of the grave danger, which threatened the very existence of India as a free country with a distinct culture. More than five hundred years passed before this impending calamity actually overwhelmed India. It is of paramount importance to know what the Indians had done, or left undone, during this long period, to resist the invaders and prevent or avert their future aggressions.

Such a study is not only of profound interest in itself, but is also calculated to demonstrate the inherent strength or weakness of the national character of the Indians. It is also invested with a special importance because the current notion on the subject is vague and inaccurate, and a great deal of misconception prevails, due to racial pride or prejudice, even in the minds of educated Indians. No apology is therefore needed to revert to this topic of great historical and national importance.

Unfortunately, we have no record of the Muslim raids in Hindu literature, and all our information is necessarily based on the version of the Muslim historians. Thus, we can hardly expect it to be a true and impartial account of the prolonged conflict. As always happens, these historians have magnified the victories of the Muslims against the ‘infidels’ and have done scant justice to these opponents. The idea has therefore naturally gained ground that the Muslim conquest of India was almost a case of Vini Vidi Vici, and the resistance offered by the Indians hardly deserves any serious consideration.

Few writers have disputed this or studied the situation from the Indian point of view in order to examine the various reactions of Muslim invasions on Indian mind and the national activities evoked thereby. Even if the one-sided version of the Muslim historians is properly scrutinised, we shall be compelled to give up the complacent view hitherto entertained on the subject of Muslim invasions of India and find enough materials to form a fair estimate of the reaction it produced on the Indian mind.

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Hindu Responses to Islamic Invasions: A Historical Journey

I may sum up the general characteristics as follows:

It was inevitable that the Arabs, who had conquered Persia in A. D. 636 and advanced as far as the Oxus by A.D. 650, should cast their covetous eyes upon the rich plains and cities of India. No less than three naval expeditions were sent by the second Caliph, Omar (A.D. 634-643 A. D.), but they failed to produce any tangible result. Then the Arabs advanced by land, in three directions, towards Kabul, Zabul (Kandahar), and Sindh. The Arabs often gained some initial successes in the first two regions, but the resistance of the people always forced them ultimately to fall back. On more than one occasion the Muslim army was completely routed and sometimes it met with serious reverses. In spite of persistent efforts for more than Half a century to subdue Kabul and Zabul, the Arabs failed to achieve their object and gave it up as beyond their power.

The Arab expedition against Sindh also met with little success at the beginning. A naval expedition against the port of Debal, at the mouth of the Sindhu, having failed, the Caliph planned to send an expedition by land. But he gave up the project when his governor of Iraq reported that Sindh was a very powerful kingdom and by no means willing to submit to the Muhammadans. The next Caliph was also induced to give up the projected invasion of Sindh on receiving a similar report from his agent. During the Caliphate of Ali, a well-equipped expedition was sent against Kikan, a hilly region round the Bolan Pass, which formed a part of the kingdom of Sindh. The Muslim army was routed, and the general was killed together with all but a few of his followers ( A. D. 663 ). During the next twenty years no less than six expeditions were sent against Kikan but they failed to achieve any conspicuous success.

It was not till 708 A. D. that the Arabs again planned an invasion of Sindh. The Caliph was unwilling to sanction the risky invasion but at last gave way to the importunities of Hajjaj, the governor of Iraq. But two successive expeditions sent by Hajjaj met with failure, the Muslim general being killed on both the occasions. Hajjaj then made elaborate preparations for the conquest of Sindh and equipped an army on a lavish scale, to which a contingent of 6,000 Syrian soldiers was added by the Caliph. This huge army was placed under the command of Muhammad-ibn-Kasim who advanced in 712 A.D. against the port of Debal.

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Hindu Responses to Islamic Invasions: A Historical Journey

It is needless to recount the victorious march of the Muslim general from one end of Sindh to another. It is, however, admitted that Dahar, the king of Sindh, fought bravely and offered a stout resistance till the very end. Describing the last pitched battle which raged for two days, the Chronicler says:

The infidels made a rush on the Arabs from all sides and fought so steadily and bravely that the army of Islam became irresolute and their lines were broken up in great confusion.

But the day was lost through one of those accidents which have again and again decided the fate of the Hindus in their fight against the Muslims. Dahar, who led the vanguard of the army, became an easy target to the enemy, and his death was followed by chaos and confusion in his ranks resulting in a complete rout of his army.

Even after the death of Dahar, his queen and sons continued the resistance, and some important towns like the capital city of Alor, Brahmanabad and Multan held out bravely against the heavy odds.

This is one side of the picture-a heroic and glorious resistance on the part of a small Indian state against a world-power that had conquered nearly the whole of Western Asia, North Africa and Spain, without receiving any resistance which bears comparison with that of Sindh.

But let us now turn to the other side of the shield.

To be continued

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